Unbending the Truth

Linux logo with Tux

As a followup to Microsoft’s FUD campain against Linux, Novell opened a website to turn down all of Microsoft’s arguments: Unbending the Truth: Things Microsoft Hopes You Won’t Notice. The website is definetly part of Novell’s marketting campain for SuSE Linux enterprise servers. While generally promoting Linux and Open Source, many references are made to the recently purchased distribution.

Microsoft has been very active fighting to prove the Windows 2003 Server TCO is lower than administrating a Linux system. They financed multiple studies to support their arguments. It’s clear that Linux means either loss of market share or price reduction for them.

Novell recently made Linux a central part of it’s solutions and they are trying to impose themselves in the community as defenders of Open Source. In a public anouncement, Novell indicated that they could use their own patents against those threatening Linux with software patents. They also guarentee protection against lawsuits for their clients (even if everyone knows SCO’s lawsuit won’t win). Tux now has two giants to watch his back.

Back from GTEC Week

GTEC Week

I spent two days in Ottawa for the GTEC Week, a technology exhibition for the government. No official number of visitors are available at this time but the estimation is well over 7000. PHP Quebec had a booth to present PHP and surrounding technologies in the Open Source Labs. Most major vendors were present to offer their products.

Free and Open Source Software had a very special place in the event. Novell, IBM and the departement of defense were presenting it as a viable solution. Defense Research and development departement was distributing a preliminary report containing and overview and guidelines for Free Software usage in the canadian government. The 270 pages study is not official at this point, but it will probably become once it is reviewed, approved and translated to french.

From what I heard between the lines, Corel will be releasing a Linux version of WordPerfect Office Suite very soon. I have been very surprised with this since I didn’t even remember WordPerfect still existed. It’s good to see vendors place more trust into Linux and consider it as a viable market.

Novell was presenting the newest release of the SuSE distribution and the integration with their existing services. A lot of work has been placed on interoperability with Windows. Companies willing to proceed to a transition to Linux will have to take a look at those solutions.

The show wasn’t all about Open Source. Some companies were simply there to sell overpriced systems to governements. As a big suprised, Microsoft remained very quiet.

Presentation in November

PHP Quebec Logo

During the November meeting of PHP Quebec in Montreal, I will be giving a presentation about documentation methods. Expect it to be focused on PHP, but it will go way beyond the traditional JavaDoc (or phpDoc in the context). So far, the plan looks like this:

  • Why?
  • Why not?
  • Types of documentation
    • API
    • Vision
    • Changes
    • Data structures
    • Bugs and anomalies

The meeting takes place at the École Polytechnique on November 4th 2004 at 19:00. Admission is totally free and everyone is invited. Sessions are given in french due to the audience, but we usually do a good job at translating on request. More details about the location are given on PHP Quebec’s website.

Waltzing with Bears: Managing Risk on Software Project

Cover of the book

I felt on this book while surfing on Amazon. The title sounded original, the topic was interesting and the reviews were positive. I decided to buy it. It was on my doorstep 36 hours later. Waltzing with Bears is a very quick read (little under 200 pages), but it contains an incredible amount of information. Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister wrote an excellent book.

General risk management is covered by about half of the book. In the early chapters, generic examples are being used. As the chapters advance, the emphasis on software development increases, but a parallel to reality and non-abstract examples are always made. Some of the examples are humoristic or cynical, which makes the read even more interesting. My favorite example was when they were trying to evaluate the damages to prepare for in the case you would hit a child based on the average weights.

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Are we ever going to see them?

OpenGL Logo

I just felt on an other 3D desktop environment. Croquet Project‘s goals seem to be greater than simply being a desktop environment, but it still looks like one. The open source project is using OpenGL and is supposed to run on all major platforms (Linux, OS X, Windows). Reading the descriptions on the main page, I ended up thinking it was a complete operating system. I had to go in the FAQ to find out that it was nothing more than an application. Those guys are definetly good at playing with words.

First thing I tought about was Sun’s Looking Glass Project. Basically, they both seem to do similar things except that Sun’s really is a desktop environment and is designed for the Java Desktop System (project core is available on SourceForge under GPL) and Croquet is Croquet is a combination of computer software and network architecture that supports deep collaboration and resource sharing among large numbers of users within the context of a large-scale distributed information system., whatever it means. I also saw an other similar project back when Looking Glass made some waves with the release on SourceForge but I couldn’t find it back.

Are we ever going to see one of those in action? I havn’t heard any news from Looking Glass in months. This new project does not even have an official release: how long will it live? Both project seem to be very serious, but is it only a hype that will be dropped before reaching the public? I really wonder how it will be in terms of usability and if it will be good enough for everyone to drop their good old 2D desktop interface.

Distributions taking positions

Linux Logo with Tux

Distributions have been growing for years. As Linux started to get more popular, the amount of packages in distributions also increased. Most recent distributions like Fedora and Mandrake have 4 CDs or are distributed on DVD. Maintainers saw their workload increase drastically. Yesterday, an article on Slashdot came up and indicated that Slackware could drop support for Gnome. This was in no way official, but it definetly marks a major change in the way Linux will be distributed.

A few new distributions saw the light recently, such as Ubunto Linux. The distribution is based on Debian but it filters the packages that are accessible and also gives it a fresh wind. From what I could see, Gnome 2.8 is the only available desktop environment. Yoper divided the distributions based on the purpose they will serve. Instead of making everything available, things are filtered for higher quality. Sun’s Java Desktop System also had a reduced amount of packages. Novell’s SuSe is pushing for Ximian (I might be wrong on that one) and Evolution as a solution.

I think this is all for the best. I have been asked recently what was the difference between all distributions. I have to admit that my best answer was the way they are distributed, because they are all pretty much the same. One you have a distribution selected, you still need to select the packages you want. The new generation simple cuts off one of those choices. This is probably going to help more migration to Linux by making it easyer for new user but also by assuring a higher quality.

This changes nothing to the fact that Debian and Gentoo will remain present with their overwhelming amount of packages for those who like their Freedom. As long as a single desktop environment does not win the war, have a monopoly and impose their standards, I will be happy.

Vim does it all

VIM Logo (The editor)

Most people think you’re some kind of freak when they hear you are using Vim as an editor. Most of the time, they end up thinking you really are a freak when they see you using it. It’s a great, full featured and simple editor. Not only it does everything all other editors do, but it does it faster and most of the time, in a more efficient way. The down side is that there is no way a single person can know it all.

Last Thursday, Yann Larrivée made a presentation about my favorite editor during the PHP Quebec monthly meeting. There were quite a few other users in the room, which made the entire presentation very amusing. Even the most advanced users and the presenter himself learned during the presentation. Quite a few people had a first look on the editor, most of them were simply stunned when they left the room. Vim is not the most simple application to learn, but it definetly is worth investing time in.

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Souverainist Software

Gnu Head

Having a discussion with Open Source enthousiasts yesterday, we ended up talking about how the rest of the world, especially english Canada and United States, saw Quebec and how it always turned down to the souverainist movement. A french speaker talking to an english canadian about Free Software has to be talking about separation of Quebec.

We ended up laughing about the term Souverainist Software and found that it actually had a real meaning. It’s a proprietary software that wants to become Open Source! Quite a few applications get opened. IBM donated Cloudscape a few months ago, which is now known as Apache Derby. An other good example of Souverainist Software is Java. Currently the sources are closed, but many people would like to see them Open and there have been many discussions on the topic in the past few months.

Finally a Logical Application

Portion of a screenshot taken from official website

I recently found this open source project called FreeMind. It came out of a discussion on IRC and I have to admit I have been very impressed. If you have ever been in a course trying to take notes in a word processor, you know how impossible it is to keep a structure and represent what you really mean in an efficient way. While this application won’t produce a clean print, it does allow you to organise your ideas. The output graphic looks very clean without any efforts.

The application just create a set of nodes linked together with text in them: it’s plain simple. The good part of it is that it’s actually very simple to use and the navigation is very quick. There are a few more advanced features from what I could see in the screenshots, but I’m not an expert with it yet. Since most common operations can be done with the keyboard (actually, all of them if you can remember the keys), you don’t really have to mess with the touch pad. Touch pads are fine for casual navigation, but when it comes to graphics or drag and drop, it’s hell.

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Object Oriented Design & Patterns

Cover of the book

Object Oriented Design & Patterns is an expensivee ~400 page book written by Cay Horstmann. Usually, the price would have made me move to the next title but I had to read it for a class that I am taking. The book covers, as the title indicates, application design and patterns. The approach is very practical and the book is loaded with examples.

The book had the feel of an exercise book. An exhaustive series of exercises are proposed at the end of each chapter. I won’t comment on the exercises because I simply skipped them all. They are probably useful for those who need to verify if they understood the concepts but I’m just not patient enough to do so.

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